Despite increasing tuition rates, more students are attending college than ever before. But are students actually learning anything?
Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa recently published “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” which exposes national issues of higher education and claims that undergraduates are slacking more than ever before.
In today’s society, a college degree is a basic requirement for a job in almost any profession, and some parents start saving for their children’s college expenses when they are very young.
However, research by the Collegiate Learning Assessment illustrates that once in college, many undergraduates do not learn much. The main reason: a lack of motivation.
Academic drifters are students who have no clear idea of what they want to do with their degree and who show little discipline.
Compared to previous decades, “Students as a whole have fewer academic standards and lower work ethic,” Stacey Reycraft, director of Student Disability Services, said.
Economic surveys in “Academically Adrift” show that in the 1920s students averaged 40 hours a week on academic studies. This number has declined over time, and by 2003, the average student spent only 13 hours a week on academics.
The authors also gave a cognitive test to 2,300 students across the country, and 45 percent showed no sign of improvement in cognitive thinking, complex reasoning and creative writing during their first two years.
This decline has very little effect on GPA fluctuation. Rather than learning the substance of their majors, students learn the art of managing college.
According to statistics released by Duke University, students shape their schedules to include classes that require less study time and have professors who are more inclined to grade leniently and choose classes based on student evaluations rather than the class syllabi.
“Colleges and universities, for all the benefits they bring, accomplish far less for their students than they should,” Derek Bok, former Harvard University president, said.
Economists challenge professors to look past the temporary recession and build students up for long-run productivity by finding creative ways to assign more reading and writing course work outside the mandatory curriculum.
Economists like Claudia Goldman argue that investments in higher education lead to profitable economic circumstances, but if these investments produce “scholars” who cannot think abstractly, this “investment” becomes a loss.
The blame of scholastic decline does not rest only on the professors and the students; it also rests on the administration.
Statistics released by universities show that on average, four-year colleges spend more money on athletic endeavors than on academic scholarships and programs.
According to statistics released by the NCAA, athletic spending generates revenue for SEC schools, but Ole Miss was the only university that broke even, with $45,737,904 of operating expenses and revenue.
Regardless of the financial expenses of education, the way students spend their time has a significant impact on cognitive enhancement.
Arum and Ruska also took surveys at Duke University and other four-year colleges, which showed that students who spend more time in Greek life have lower academic rates of return for their college degrees.
“Educational practices associated with academic rigor improved student performance, while collegiate experiences associated with social engagement did not,” Arum said in “Academically Adrift.”
In the book “Academically Adrift,” “The most significant increase in cognitive development, creative writing and complex reasoning is found in the school of liberal arts,” the authors said in their book.
Their economic research illustrated that students whose majors fall in this category graduate with higher levels of cognitive development than those who major in business, communication, education or social work.
Arum said in the book that federal mandates regarding testing on classroom curricula, new editions of textbooks and better classroom technology are not the key to a better education.
“The challenge of getting a college degree is to emerge with the ability to think critically and solve problems as they arise in the world,” Trey Fonde, economic major said.
“In the race to completion, there is this assumption that a credit is a credit is a credit, and when you get to the magic number of credits, you will have learned what you need to learn.
Debra Humphreys, vice president for communications and public affairs of the Association for American Colleges and Universities, said,
“What Arum’s book shows is that you can accumulate an awful lot of credits and not learn anything.”
During a lecture at Duke University, biology professor Zhen Ming Pei encouraged students to study.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is balance how much I want to achieve with how much effort I’m willing to put forth,” he said.